The Brockley Jack Theatre is currently offering the opportunity to see a rarely performed and probably almost unknown operetta by Gustav Holst. The Idea is presented by Irrational Theatre, a company that specialises in the performance of British operas and plays, celebrating the work of librettists, composers and writers.
If you like G & S you will certainly enjoy this.
When Gustav Holst wrote The Idea in 1896 at the age of 22 with librettist and fellow student at the Royal College of Music, Fritz B Hart, Gilbert and Sullivan would have been 60 and 54 years of age respectively. Holst, having been born in England, would have grown up with their music, so it is really no surprise that, despite the gravity of his later works, he should have had some musical fun in the style of the satirical masters of 19th century English operetta, something he had already done in 1892 with Lansdown Castle, or The Sorcerer of Tewkesbury, even using the double title style they often adopted.
The Idea is a short work of just under an hour, which still makes it longer than Trial by Jury. The story is simple and is told through characters very much in the style of the Commedia dell'arte, with extravagant costumes by director Paula Chitty and make-up worthy of pantomime. All is well in the kingdom, apart from the prime minister who has an illness, but its social stratification means that men and women know their roles and positions in society and there is harmony in the land. Now recovered the PM puts forward the idea he had on his stick bed. Recognising that the king is a weak ruler and that the queen is a woman of strength and determination he proposes that all gender roles in the county should be reversed. Accordingly, the knitting housewife takes up the soldier’s gun and the queen takes her husband’s throne. However his ulterior motive is to charm his way to the throne, which he feels will be easier with a woman than a man. He has another minor idea which he throws into the melting pot that causes some consternation, but, as with all works of this sort, the muddles and debates are eventually resolved and life goes on as before.
This arrangement of Holst's work is by Patrick Vincent, who also plays a range of instruments during the performance with Laurie O’Brien on keyboard. The cast consists of Ross Hobson, Valeria Perboni, Simon Mulligan, Elena Hogg and John Stivey. They all enter into the silliness of the work and there is some fine singing with energy and pace to carry the piece along including dance gestures devised by Elizabeth George.
If you like G & S you will certainly enjoy this and it’s fun to think of the stories and songs that come to mind from their works as the music and plot moves trippingly along.